Theories of Surplus Value, Marx 1861-3

[CHAPTER VII]  Linguet

[Early Critique of the Bourgeois-Liberal View of the “Freedom” of the Labourer]

||438| Linguet, Théorie des lois civiles, etc., Londres, 1767.

In accordance with the plan of my work socialist and communist writers are entirely excluded from the historical reviews.  These reviews are only intended to show on the one hand in what form the political economists criticised each other, and on the other hand the historically determining forms in which the laws of political economy were first stated and further developed.  In dealing with surplus-value I therefore exclude such eighteenth-century writers as Brissot, Godwin and the like, and likewise the nineteenth-century socialists and communists.  The few socialist writers whom I shall come to speak of in this survey either themselves adopt the standpoint of bourgeois economy or contest it from its own standpoint.

Linguet however is not a socialist.  His polemics against the bourgeois-liberal ideals of the Enlighteners, his contemporaries, against the dominion of the bourgeoisie that was then beginning, are given—half-seriously, half-ironically—a reactionary appearance.  He defends Asiatic despotism against the civilised European forms of despotism; thus he defends slavery against wage-labour.

Vol. I.  The only statement directed against Montesquieu: l’esprit des lois, c’est la propriété,* shows the depth of his outlook.

The only economists whom Linguet found to deal with were the Physiocrats.

The rich have taken possession of all the conditions of production; [hence] the alienation of the conditions of production, which in their simplest form are the natural elements themselves.

“In our civilised countries, all the elements [of nature] are slaves” ([Linguet, Théorie des lois civiles…, Londres, 1767], p. 188).

In order to get hold of some of this wealth appropriated by the rich, it must be purchased with heavy labour, which increases the wealth of these rich persons.

“Thus it is that all captive nature has ceased to offer to these children resources of easy access for the maintenance of their life.  Its favours must be paid for by assiduous toil, and its gifts by stubborn labours” [p. 188].

(Here—in the gifts of nature—the Physiocratic view is echoed.)

“The rich man, wino has arrogated to himself the exclusive possession of it, only at this price consents to restore even the smallest part of it to the community.  In order to be allowed to share in its treasures, it is necessary to labour to increase them” (p. 189).  “One must, then, renounce this chimera of liberty” (p. 190).  Laws exist in order to “sanctify a primary usurpation” (of private property), “to prevent new usurpations” (p. 192).  “They are, as it were, a conspiracy against the greater part of the human race” [p. 195] (that is, against those who own no property).  “It is society which has produced the laws, and not the laws which have produced society” (p. 230).  “Property existed before the laws” (p. 236).

Society itself—the fact that man lives in society and not as an independent, self-supporting individual—is the root of property, of the laws based on it and of the inevitable slavery.

On the one hand, there were peaceful and isolated husband-men and shepherds.  On the other hand—

“hunters accustomed to live by blood, to gather together in bands the more easily to entrap and fell the beasts on which they fed, and to concert together on the division of the spoils” (p. 279).  “It is among the hunters that the first signs of society must have appeared” (p. 278).  “Real society came into being at the expense of the shepherds or husbandman, and was founded on their subjection” by a band of hunters who had joined hands (p. 289).  All duties of society were resolved into commanding and obeying “This degradation of a part of the human race, after it had produced society, gave birth to laws” (p. 294).

Stripped of the conditions of production, the labourers are compelled by need to labour to increase the wealth of others in order themselves to live.

“It is the impossibility of living by any other means that compels our farm labourers to till the soil whose fruits they will not eat, and our masons to construct buildings in which they will not live.  It is want that drags them to those markets where they await masters who will do them the kindness of buying them.  It is want that compels them to go down on their knees to the rich man in order to get from him permission to enrich him” (p. 274).

“Violence, then, has been the first cause of society, and force the first bond that held it together” (p. 302).  “Their” (men’s) “first care was doubtless to provide themselves with food… the second must have been to seek to provide themselves with it without labour” (pp. 307-08).  “They could only achieve this by appropriating to themselves the fruit of other men’s labour” (p. 308).  “The first conquerors only made themselves despots so that they could be idle with impunity, and kings, in order to have something to live on: and this greatly narrows and simplifies…the idea of domination” (p. 309).  “Society is born of violence, and property of usurpation” (p. 347).  “As soon as there were masters and slaves, society was formed” (p. 343).  “From the beginning, the two ||439| pillars of the civil union were on the one hand the slavery of the greater part of the men, and on the other, the slavery of all the women…  It was at the cost of three-fourths of its members that society assured the happiness, the opulence, the ease of the small number of property-owners whom alone it had in view” (p. 365).

Vol. II: “The question, therefore, is not to examine whether slavery is contrary to nature in itself, but whether it is contrary to the nature of society…it is inseparable from it” (p. 256).  “Society and civil servitude were born together” (p. 257).  “Permanent slavery…the indestructible foundation of societies” (p. 347).

“Men have only been reduced to depend for their subsistence on the liberality of another man when the latter by despoiling them has become rich enough to be able to return a small portion to them.  His feigned generosity could be no more than a restitution of some part of the fruits of their labours which he had appropriated” (p. 242).  “Does not servitude consist in this obligation to sow without reaping for oneself, to sacrifice one’s well-being to that of another, to labour without hope?  And did not its real epoch begin from he moment when there were men whom the whip and a few measures of oats when they were brought to the stable could compel to   labour?  It is only in a fully developed society that food seems to the poor starveling a sufficient equivalent for his liberty; but in n society in its early stages free men would be struck with horror at this unequal exchange.  It could only be proposed for captives.  Only after they have been deprived of the enjoyment of all their faculties can it” [the exchange] “become a necessity for them” (pp. 244-45).

The essence of society…consists in freeing the rich man from labour, giving him new organs, untiring members, which take upon themselves all the laborious operations the fruits of which he is to appropriate.  That is the plan which slavery allows him to carry out without embarrassment.  He buys men who are to serve him” (p. 461).  “In suppressing slavery, no claim was made that either wealth or its advantages were suppressed…  It was therefore necessary that things should remain the same except in name, It has always been necessary for the majority of men to continue to live in the pay of and in dependence on the minority which has appropriated to itself all wealth.  Slavery has therefore been perpetuated on the earth, but under a sweeter name.  Among us now it is adorned with the title of service” (p. 462).

By these servants, Linguet says, he does not mean lackeys and the like:

“The towns and the countryside are peopled by another kind of servant, more widely spread, more useful, more laborious, and known by the name of journeymen, handicraftsmen, etc.  They are not dishonoured by the brilliant colours of luxury; they sigh beneath the loathsome rags which are the livery of penury.  They never share in the abundance of which their labour is the source.  Wealth seems to grant them a favour when it kindly accepts the presents that they make to it.  It is for them to he grateful for the services which they render to it.  It pours on them the most outrageous contempt while they are clasping its knees imploring permission to be useful to it.  It has to be pleaded with to grant this, and in this peculiar exchange of real generosity for an imaginary favour, arrogance and disdain are on the side of the receiver, and servility, anxiety and eagerness on the side of the giver.  These are the servants who have truly replaced the serfs among us” (pp. 463-64).

“The point that has to he examined is: what effective gain the suppression of slavery has brought to them.  I say with as much sorrow as frankness: all that they have gained is to be every moment tormented by the fear of death from hunger, a calamity that at least never visited their predecessors in this lowest rank of mankind” (p. 464).  “He is free, you say.  Ah!  That is his misfortune.  He is bound to no one; but also no one is bound to him.  When he is needed, he is hired at the cheapest price possible.  The meagre wage that he is promised is hardly equal to the price of his subsistence for the day which he gives in exchange.  He is given overlookers to compel him to fulfil his task quickly; he is hard driven; he is goaded on, for fear that a skilfully concealed and only too comprehensible laziness may make him hold back half his strength; for fear that the hope of remaining employed longer on the same task may stay his hands and blunt his tools.  The sordid economy that keeps a restless watch on him overwhelms him with reproaches at the slightest respite he seems to allow himself, and claims to have been robbed if he takes a moment’s rest.  When he has finished he is dismissed as be was taken on, with the coldest indifference, and without any concern as to whether the twenty or thirty sous that he has just earned for a hard day’s labour ||440| will be enough to keep him if he finds no work the following day” (pp. 466-67).

“He is free!  That is precisely why I pity him.  For that reason, he is much less cared for in the labours in which be is used.  His life is much more readily hazarded.  The slave was precious to his master because of the money he had cost him.  But the handicraftsman costs nothing to the rich voluptuary who employs him.  Men’s blood had some p rice in the days of slavery.  They were worth at least as much as they could be sold for in the market.  Since they have no longer been sold they have no real intrinsic value.  A pioneer is much less valued in an army than a pack-horse, because the horse is very costly and a pioneer can be had for nothing.  The suppression of slavery brought these military calculations into civil life; and since that epoch there has been no prosperous bourgeois who does not calculate in this way, as heroes do” (p. 467)

“The day-labourers are born, grow up and are trained for” (are bred for) “the service of wealth without causing it the slightest expense, like the game that it massacres over its estates.  It seems as if it really has the secret of which the unfortunate Pompey vainly boasted.  Wealth has only to stamp on the ground, and from it emerge legions of hard-working men who contend among themselves for the honour of being at its disposal: if one among this crowd of mercenaries putting up its buildings or keeping its gardens straight disappears, the place that he has left empty is an invisible point which is immediately covered again without any intervention from anyone.  A drop of the water of a great river is lost without regret, because new torrents incessantly succeed it.  It is the same with labourers; the ease with which they can be replaced fosters the rich man’s” (this is the form used by Linguet; not yet capitalist) “hard-heartedness towards them” (p. 468).

“These men, it is said, have no master…pure abuse of the word.  What does it mean?  they have no master—they have one, and the most terrible, the most imperious of masters, that is, need.  It is this that reduces them to the most cruel dependence.  It is not one man in particular whose orders they must obey, but the orders of all in general.  It is not a single tyrant whose whims they have to humour and whose benevolence they have to court— which would set a limit to their servitude and make it endurable.  They become the valets of anyone who has money, which gives their slavery an infinite compass and severity.  It is said that if they do not get on well with one master they at least have the consolation that they can tell him so and the power to make a change: but the slaves have neither the one nor the other.  They are therefore all the more wretched.  What sophistry!  For bear in mind that the number of those who make others work is very small and the number of labourers on the contrary is immense” (pp. 470-71).  “What is this apparent liberty which you have bestowed on them reduced to for them?  They live only by hiring out their arms.  They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger.  Is that to be free?” (p. 472).

“What is most terrible is that the very smallness of this pay is another reason for reducing it.  The more the day-labourer is driven by want, the cheaper he sells himself.  The greater the urgency of his need, the less profitable is his labour.  The despots for the moment whom he beseeches with tears to accept his services feel no shame in, as it were, feeling his pulse, to assure themselves that he has enough strength left; they fix the reward that they offer him by the degree of his weakness.  The nearer they think he is to death from starvation, the more they deduct from what could keep him from it; and what the savages that they are give him is less to prolong his life than to delay his death” (pp. 482-83).  The “independence” (of the day-labourer) “is one of the most baneful scourges that the refinement of modern times has produced.  It augments the wealth of the rich and the poverty of the poor.  The one saves everything that the other spends.  What the latter is forced to economise is not from his superfluity but from what is indispensable to him” (p. 483).

“If today it is so easy to maintain these prodigious armies which join with luxury in order to bring about the extinction of the human race, it is only due to the suppression of slavery…  It is only since there have no longer been slaves that debauchery and beggary make heroes at five sous a day” (pp. 484-85).

“I find this” (Asiatic slavery) “a hundred times more preferable than any other way of existing, for men reduced to having to win their livelihood by daily labour” (p. 496).

“Their” (the slaves’ and the labourers’) “chains are made of the same material and only differently coloured.  Here they are black, and seem heavy: there they look less gloomy and seem hollower: but weigh them impartially and you will find no difference between them; both are equally forged by necessity.  They have precisely the same weight, or rather, if they are a few grains more in one case, it is in the one whose external appearance proclaims that it is lighter” (p. 510).

He calls to the men of the French Enlightenment, in regard to the labourers:

“Do you not see that the subjection, the annihilation—since it must he said—of this large part of the flock creates the wealth of the shepherds?… Believe me, in his interest” (the shepherd’s), “in yours, and even in theirs, leave them” (the sheep) “with the conviction that they have that this cur who yelps at them is stronger by himself than they are all together.  Let them flee with stupid fright at the mere sight of his shadow.  Everyone benefits from it.  It will make it easier for you to gather them in to fleece them for yourself.  They are more easily guarded from being devoured by wolves.  [441] It is true, only to he eaten by men.  But anyway that is their fate from the moment they have entered a stable.  Before talking of releasing them from there, start by overthrowing the stable, that is to say, society” (pp. 512-13).  |X-441||

* The sprit of the laws is property.—Ed.